“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener
20.08.2010 - 22.08.2010 63 °F
I’ve found my best glimpses into the Kenyan culture and lifestyle has been during my time spent with my friends in Nairobi and Eldoret. I’ve accepted the food, learned the customs, embraced the religion and the people. James Michener would be proud. This weekend, after my IU friends left on their grand adventures to the coast, I went with Professor Naiomi Shitemi to attend a traditional Kikuyu wedding. Although we didn’t make it to the wedding due to an accident involving a pothole and a huge rock (the roads are horrible as most are not paved and the rains wash away the dirt road unearthing huge rocks). But, sans wedding, the weekend was really nice. Professor Shitemi, the Kiswahili director at Moi University and an Arts and Sciences (SASS) lecturer, was the professor for my Mwalimu Leonora. She invited me to stay the weekend at her home. I actually got to visit two of her homes – one in Soy, Kenya about an hour west of Eldoret and in Kimumu, Kenya, about ten minutes outside of Eldoret. In Soy we attended a women’s group meeting and there was A TON OF FOOD. The one great thing about Kenyan events is that you’ll never go hungry.
The Women’s group of Soy is comprised of the women who hold property in Soy. They set up projects for women in the group. For example, their most recent project is a microfinance lending program where with the dues each month, they give two people in the group each half of the money and then with that they are to buy a new cow or setup a chicken coup or fix the fence on their properties, etc. The women are all middle class/upper class but they can make decisions for the betterment for their family and property without relying on their husbands to make the initiative. And of course the women are all friends so there was lots of talking, catching up and gossiping to accompany the food and planning.
The one similarity between Spain and Nairobi is that families eat dinner exceptionally late (according to American standards). Usually we take dinner between 9 and 10, which is fine with me as that is how I grew up and have been eating late all my life. I stayed with Professor Shitemi’s family in Kimumu, right outside of Eldoret, and by doing so, I became great friends with her two nieces, Lydia and Carol. Carol is 20 and Lydia is 28 and they were so welcoming and it wasn’t long after I set my bags down that we were drinking chai and talking for hours. I really wish I would have contacted Professor Shitemi earlier into my trip as I would have loved to spend more time with her family. P. Shitemi also has a daughter Marcy who is studying at Indiana University (and who the family concluded that I act like and we have the same personality) and a son Ken and a daughter Rosie who just finished form 7. Rosie goes to a boarding school which is popular for families who can afford private school costs (still inexpensive compared to the US).
As I come from a big family, it was really nice being around a big Kenyan family. Although Lydia and Carol are P. Shitemi’s nieces, they live with her family as their families are in the US and they are studying here. Jamii or family does not necessarily mean intermediate family and by the end of my time in Eldoret, I caught myself calling P Shitemi Mama like the girls do. I think I came out of my shell because I had such a good experience with both Dr. Wanjiku’s and Mama Shitemi’s families and for that I’ll be forever grateful.
On Sunday we went to the Shitemi’s Anglician church in which this particular Sunday was ‘Choir Mass’. There were 5 choirs from all over the country joining St. John’s congregation for a musical mass of traditional African Christian songs and instruments. It was gorgeous and the music was beautiful. After mass, we all stuck around and had lunch and listened to an encore performance.
All in all it was a great weekend full of good food, great company and beautiful music.